Age Is Just A Number.
My friend, Manju, threw me a surprise 40th birthday party. She is slightly older and infinitely wiser and counselled me that something marvellous happens at 40. She paused for effect and revealed, “You get the software upgrade!”. She added, with a twinkle in her eye, the most well-kept secret is that the 40s are the best decade!
A few days later, I’m still waiting for the upgrade notification. I want the 4.0 version she promised would come, especially as my hardware is rapidly degrading. Parts of my body are bulging in the wrong places, and other parts are giving in to gravity. I am waging a war with the greys infiltrating my hair, and peculiar grooves line my forehead where it used to be smooth. It occurs to me I don’t want just an upgrade, I am in the market for a whole new operating system. It doesn’t help my New Yorker app generated an unsolicited and unwelcome article titled “Tips for Middle-Aged Women on How to Look Stunning in Photos.” Middle what?!
As this extraordinary year comes to a close, we are perhaps even more reflective than usual. 2020 has been a year when issues related to ageing – sickness, mortality and the phrase “high-risk bracket” – register closer to home. But with January right around the corner, 2021 brings anticipation, excitement, and hopefully a COVID vaccine. With a fresh start in mind, I gathered a few girlfriends (virtually) for an evening chat over Old Fashioned cocktails, and crowdsourced from their brilliant and mature minds: how do we age with continued vigour? Put in another way, how do we ensure we get the software upgrade when it is released?
With the help of my girlfriends’ inputs, I gathered the improved version doesn’t happen miraculously. There are a few prerequisites beforehand, and like anything worth having, it takes patience, practice and some pain to earn the rights to the new software. While my phone is in need of continual upgrades, ageing is also a multi-layered upgrade process. The secret is how to age while staying continuously young at heart.
Stay Young At Heart: Download New Apps
There are a host of apps available: some are for productivity, others are for news, and many apps are for enjoyment and play. As we age, it is even more imperative we download the apps for playing and enjoying the time we are privileged to have. In non-tech terms, make the time to have fun. If you need inspiration, start by watching your kids play (if you don’t have kids, you can borrow mine for the afternoon). These half-pints can play with just about anything (a handful of pebbles, a bag of seeds, or even a dead insect), and are engrossed while doing so. All else is forgotten, like dinner, bath time, and homework – especially homework. Let’s play in the same way. Which activity gets you in the zone and enthrals you to the exclusion of all else? Is it painting with oils? Is it ballroom dancing? Is it reading a book? App-ly yourself to this daily and consider it your essential playtime.
A few of my girlfriends are updating their apps this year. One has taken up knitting, the other rented a studio space and started learning ceramics, and yet another who always dreamed of being a Paediatric Nutritionist is now pursuing her online Master’s degree in Nutrition Science & Policy administered by Tufts (I double-checked, and she confirmed studying for this course is considered “play” for her.) My go-to application time is writing and sports. Both activities get me in the zone and, if time were not a limitation, I could play for hours accompanied with my Spotify playlist cranked at deafening decibels. Playing looks different from person to person; time and resource limitations are also different from person to person. Do what you love, love what you do, even if it is 20 minutes a day.
Stay Young At Heart: Tap Into Your Unlimited Capacity
Jacqueline, 44, brought up a great point about digital ageing. “A lot of adults, especially those who do not work outside the home, speak about how old they feel and I find it’s directly related to a lack of familiarity with current trends in technology.” This point rings even truer this year as video conferencing is part of our daily routine, along with the use of technology we may not know existed last year.
Ann, 41, found herself in between banking jobs for the most part of this year and took the opportunity to learn Python. I asked her why she didn’t pick something less ambitious, but she insisted she wants to learn and understand the process behind the technology. Ann is gifted with an exceptionally large capacity and has reptilian interests that most of us may not embrace. But each of us can take a byte from her attitude of lifelong learning especially when it comes to technology, an innovative field which is constantly evolving.
I recently found myself outside of my technological comfort zone when I had to learn Slack. Slack is a hip, free and adaptable platform which supports email, document depository, chat and has lightning speed Search functions. At the NGO I volunteer for, Asian Charity Services, we moved from WhatsApp to Slack because the latter offered more features suited to our needs. I was reluctant and found the app confusing. After a while, I found it slightly less confusing but learned to appreciate Slack’s distinctive features.
The young are constantly learning, and learning things they don’t know. As we age and accumulate things we know, we gradually start learning less. But diving into the realm of things we didn’t know we didn’t know (especially when it pertains to technology) is at once a scary and satisfying experience. Delving into our unlimited capacity to learn, explore and wonder fosters our younger spirits.
Stay Young At Heart: Run Your Anti-Virus Software
I’ve kept a list called “Big things, in perspective” for the last decade. Every few months I would jot down a few big things on my mind. Like a virus on a malware mission, these would become infective agents causing me increasing anxiety. For example, the May 2012 entry consisted of three issues: a leaky roof, my toddler refusing to potty train, and finding a suitable job. What I discovered from my Big Things list is that over time, every virus from the earlier years got eradicated with the right anti-virus software, which is, the ability to keep situations in perspective. Perspective is a gift of ageing. As we age, we move away from our most immediate problems. With distance, comes perspective.
Since May 2012, our family moved from the house with the leaky roof, the toddler is now nine years old and can thankfully use the loo by herself, and I eventually found a hugely satisfying job. In fact, my anti-virus platform has taught me a valuable lesson: none of my past aggravations bothers me any longer. This is hugely encouraging. It gives me hope that every intractable and difficult issue I find myself facing now, will at some point resolve. For my Dec 2020 entry, I’ve jotted down COVID, kids’ online learning, and mask acne.
Stay Young At Heart: Get The 4.0 Software Upgrade
I am constantly processing the truth of Manju’s words. When I first heard of this software upgrade I thought my upgrade would instantaneously happen with my 100MB internet bandwidth. But this is not the case. The software upgrade will eventually install as intended, but the key is to identify and fix the bugs in my current software. This requires me to actively update my apps through playing, realise my unlimited capacity by learning more, and protect my mind with anti-virus software.
Said in another way, the fountain of youth resides inside our mind. It is not in Egypt or Malaysia, and even if it were, COVID travel bans mean you can’t take a plane to visit said fountain. Instead, this metaphysical state exists with our attitude and is accessible to each of us. While ageing on a physical plane is as certain as Earth’s annual orbit around the Sun, we can choose to stay continuously young at heart and in mind. Simply put (by someone else), ageing follows the rule of mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.